The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (1973)

According to the Spaghetti Western Database, lead actor Chen Lee may have been a Japanese karate instructor, but according to director Mario Caiano (Eye In the Labyrinth), he worked in a laundry, not in a dojo, and was picked because he looked like a young Dustin Hoffman. Some think his real name was Mioshini Hayakawa, which is Japanese, not Chinese. That said, if that being racist — not knowing the difference between two countries nearly 1,900 miles away from one another — then this movie is not for you.

Seriously, nearly every race gets denigrated in this movie audibly and physically. Luckily, Shanghai Joe ends up killing every single offender.

Also — the Bruno Nicolai music — recycled from Have a Good Funeral, My Friend… Sartana Will Pay — is so good you’ll want to stick around for the whole movie.

Shanghai — or Chin Hao — has come to this country and instead of finding whatever it is he’s looking for — he has tattoos much like Kwai Chang Caine — he’s found that aforementioned racism and a love interest in Cristina (Carla Romanelli, Fenomenal and the Treasure of TutankamenThe Lonely Lady).

Our hero’s skills as a fighting man make their way to cattle rancher Stanley Spencer (Piero Lulli, Kill, Baby…Kill!), who is really enslaving Mexicans to do his work. That means that the bad guys decide to kill him, but none of them can get it done.

Spencer ends up hiring four different killers, much like video game bosses, to do his work for him. There’s Tricky the Gambler (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave), Pedro the Cannibal (Robert Hundar, Sabata), Buryin’ Sam (Gordon Mitchell, who improvised and sang the song “Chin-Chin Chinaman” while carrying a shovel to try to kill Shanghai) and Scalper Jack (an astonishing Klaus Kinski, who is obsessed with hair and you genuinely fear for the life of Romanelli in their scene).

Finally, Mikuja, the only person who has the same martial arts technique and tattoo as our hero, is hired to kill him. Their battle may not be a fight on the order of a Shaw Brothers technical battle, but it’s still fun.

This movie is incredibly strange, because every time I thought it was going to be normal, it would go from slapstick to our hero plucking out a bad guy’s eye and blood spraying all over the place. It’s closer to a horror film set in the West with martial arts than a straight-up Italian Western, but it’s better for that difference.

Totally recommended.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

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